Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

A Tuna Christmas

The Vortex Theatre
Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Rob's review of Escaped Alone and Dean's reviews of It's a Wonderful Life and The Lion in Winter

Image Courtesy of The Vortex Theatre
A Tuna Christmas, which was first produced in 1989, takes place in the fictional town or Tuna, Texas, a community that prides itself on being the third smallest town in Texas. The Tuna series is the comedic brainstorm of Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard. Four plays by the writing trio are set in Tuna, beginning with Greater Tuna in 1981, followed by A Tuna Christmas, Red, White and Tuna in 1998, and Tuna Does Vegas in 2007.

Part of the schtick of the Tuna series is that two actors play all 20-some characters, many of whom appear in multiple plays. Sears and Williams often acted in the Tuna plays, including in an HBO production of Greater Tuna in 1984.

The Vortex Theatre has a particular affection for the Tuna plays, presenting six productions over the last 12 years. Mary Epstein directed three of them in order, beginning with Greater Tuna in 2006, A Tuna Christmas<./i> in 2007, and Red, White and Tuna in 2010. The current production is the second time Marc Comstock has directed a Tuna play. He directed Greater Tuna in 2017 (could his direction of Red, White and Tuna and Tuna Does Vegas be far behind?).

A number of actors have played in the multiple productions of Tuna, including Dean Eldon Squibb (who directed Tuna Does Vegas in 2012, following Epstein's trio). The current production features Benjamin Liberman and Joel Daniel Miller dividing up the 21 roles.

The humor is not quite corn, but it's close. In Tuna, we see a collection of wannabes, ne'er-do-wells and felons, all tangled up in each other's lives as Christmas approaches. When the action opens, everything in town is hanging on the annual Christmas Yard Display Contest, which has been won 14 times in a row by Vera Carp. A mysterious "Christmas phantom," known for vandalizing the yard displays, threatens to throw the contest into turmoil. Yet turmoil is the natural state for this tiny town, so it's really life as usual.

Half of the humor comes from the quick costume changes by Liberman and Miller. When a wig snafu occurs in the second act, causing Liberman to readjust his wig mid-scene, it just makes the action even funnier. Comstock should consider planning a few character-breaking goof-ups. The drama is so ridiculous, that a few winks to the audience would just give the action an extra push over the top in a play that thrives on over-the-top comedy.

Liberman and Miller are both excellent in their uninhibited goofiness. I've seen Miller deliver over-the-top characters many times, and he has a gift for it—odd, given that he spent a career as an engineer at a national lab. I haven't seen Liberman before, but he matches Miller's zaniness punch for punch. Comstock keeps the action slap-stick fast. The production team delivers well across the board. This is nice light and crazy fare that is wonderfully devoid of even a pinch of holiday sentiment.

A Tuna Christmas, through December 23, 2018, at the Vortex Theatre, 2900 Carlisle NE, Albuquerque NM. The show starts at 7:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2:00 pm on Sundays. General admission is $22, $15 for students. You can buy tickets online at or by phone at 505-247-8600.